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how to know if a song is copyrighted

How To Know If A Song Is Copyrighted?

We know you came to help you find out if a particular song you like is under copyright and to get straight to the point we want to tell you that all music is likely under some form of copyright hence you could face legal trouble if you were to use the track in an unlicensed way.

Depending on your intentions, you may be able to use a song under copyright within the following guidelines:

  1. Personal use – if you intend to include a copyrighted song in a personal project for offline use without any monetization (example: a home video or school project).
  2. Education purposes – in some cases, music can fall under “fair use” and be legally allowed to be referenced or included within creative works. However, these guidelines can be confusing. Misuse can result in punishment or removal of content (example: commentary, criticism, or parody).
  3. Public Domain – depending on the song, some music may fall under public domain, which means the track has either had its copyright expire (50+ years, depends on location), was released to the public domain by the artist, or never had copyright in the first place. (example: many Christmas songs like “Deck the Halls” fall under public domain).
  4. Proper royalty free licensing – while it isn't free, you may be able to purchase the royalty free music license to obtain the written permission and legal rights to use a particular song or music track in your creative works, often including commercial use.

While it is safe to assume whatever music you are questioning is under copyright, there are some ways that you can do to 100% know if a song is copyrighted or not.

In the case of wanting to use a particular song or multiple songs on a YouTube video, the easiest way to check for copyright issues is through visiting YouTube's Music Policies page within their creator studio (requires an active YouTube channel).

From there, you can search for a particular song or artist and see what the terms of the copyright are with YouTube. In most cases, you'll see the following message:

This song is not available for use in your YouTube videos. If you use this song, your video may be blocked or muted.

YouTube Music Policies - Maroon 5 SearchAbove is an example of YouTube's music copyright checker where the band Maroon 5 is used as an example. As you can see Maroon 5 is the copyright owner and this tool offers the best accuracy when it comes to determining the legality of music usage and potential restrictions in your videos.

According to YouTube's usage restrictions documentation, a music copyright holder has three different policies to choose from when dealing with unlicensed use of their songs within another YouTube channel's content:

  • Monetize: The copyright holder has chosen to monetize this music, so ads may appear on your video. In some cases, the copyright holder may elect to share some of that revenue with you. Even if this policy is applied, the video may not be available everywhere or on all devices.
  • Block worldwide: One or more copyright holders do not allow the use of this music on YouTube. If you use this music, your video may be muted or may be entirely unavailable on YouTube.
  • Block in some countries: One or more copyright holders have restricted the countries in which this music is available on YouTube. If you use this music, your video won't be viewable where the music is blocked on YouTube.

None of these are great options for YouTubers to deal with, so the consensus is DO NOT include copyrighted songs in your original YouTube content for any reason. That is unless you are willing to share/forfeit any potential profits, have your video involuntarily muted or removed entirely from YouTube.

One of the common situations that newer content creators run into is facing a copyright strike on their social media channel. A copyright strike in YouTube's case is a written declaration by a copyright owner stating that you have used their copyrighted material without permission. When they receive this type of official copyright claim, they will remove your video to adhere to copyright law.

A video can only be subject to one copyright infringement charge at a time. Note that YouTube videos may be deleted from the site for various reasons beyond simply copyright infringement. However, Content ID claims do not lead to a formal copyright strike. It's worth noting that removing a video with a strike doesn't automatically expunge the account penalty.

The first copyright strike will come as an email and should act as a warning of which YouTube will require you to go through their Copyright School. This is a program designed for educating an offending creator as to how copyright law works and how it is enforced by YouTube.

Obtaining copyright strikes over time can resort to many severe issues with your YouTube creator account. For example, monetization and the potential for generating ad revenue may be affected temporarily or permanently. If an active live stream was removed for violating copyright, your live streaming privileges will be restricted for at least a week.

For repeat offenders or those who obtain 3 copyright strikes, you'll face some harsh punishments from YouTube:

  • Your offending YouTube account along with any secondary channels will be subject to permanent deletion.
  • Any existing videos uploaded to your channel will be deleted.
  • Any ability to create a new channel will be restricted.

YouTube does offer a 7-day courtesy period after any resulting copyright strikes and 14-days after the third copyright strike for creators to take action before your channel is deleted. This allows for a chance for the publisher to get in touch with the copyright owners or the respective company to answer any sort of miscommunications or mistakes from improper copyright strikes before their channel is lost.

What If I Am Covering A Copyrighted Song?

Just because you don't use the original version of the song in your content (such as an instrumental for a cover of the song), it doesn't mean you'll be in the clear. Depending on the artist or copyright holder's wishes, you may be subject to decreased views or removal of monetization methods for covers.

YouTube Copyright Music Check - Elvis

Now that you've hopefully discovered whether the song you wanted to use for your video, podcast, or multimedia project falls under copyright restrictions, we can move onto ones that do not. There are several ways to find quality songs that can be legally used in digital media projects or YouTube videos of which we will go over below:

SoundStripe Homepage

#1: Purchase Royalty Free Music

While spending money on licensing isn't always the ideal choice for YouTubers, filmmakers, podcasters, or other creators, it isn't as scary as it sounds. Purchasing a proper license for royalty free music is quick, easy, and surprisingly cheap. 

Royalty free music refers to a type of licensed music that doesn't require the buyer to negotiate or pay any royalties for use outside of the original purchase. These tracks are typically recorded collaboratively with several different musicians and then sampled into the track as a unique sound meant for distribution in creative works licensed through a royalty free distribution website.

By choosing royalty free music, you'll have explicit permission so you'll never have to check a copyright license or learn how to know if a song is copyrighted. You'll always have music that offers a concrete license, free from implications of copyrights that can be used as you wish within your creative piece.

The top recommendation from our guide on the best royalty-free music sites is Soundstripe. We love Soundstripe for its high-quality music library, affordable yearly pricing, and straight-forward licensing, which covers both personal and commercial use. Read our full Soundstripe review.

YouTube Audio Library Free Music

#2: Check Out YouTube's Free Music Library

Since YouTube has experienced so many creators having trouble finding good copyright-free music for their uploaded videos, the tech giant has released a small audio library of free songs and sound effects that can be used within your videos. It isn't the largest or highest-quality music, but it helps if you are on a little to no budget.

You can find the YouTube audio library within your creator studio. There is no official license that needs to be purchased, keep in mind that some included songs or sound effects still require you to attribute the original creator in your YouTube video description, or you'll still be subject to punishment on the service and potential legal issues.

types of creative commons licenses

#3: Find Audio Licensed Under Creative Commons

While another free option, this is easily the most confusing method to go through and only recommended for creators who understand the limitations of a Creative Commons license and how to follow the proper guidelines set forth by the original CC content creator.

There are several places to find songs or tracks which are available for use under the Creative Commons license. Be sure to check the fine print as you may need to correctly attribute, not be able to modify in any way (no derivative works), share alike (release your video also under a CC license), or not be able to use commercial.

Failure to abide by the original creator's Creative Commons license guidelines will have you subject to the same copyright violations you'd face without CC, so be thorough before using in any future multimedia projects. Make sure you document where you got the song from, and its listing of Creative Commons terms (a screenshot is ideal), which can be stored and referenced in the future should any legal trouble arise.

We hope this article helped you figure out how to know if a song is copyrighted or not.